300 Willits Street
THE ENGLISH GOTHIC STRUCTURE
A distinctive feature of Gothic architecture is the way in which it employs soaring lines. Standing at the corner of Maple and Bates and looking north toward First Baptist Church, the eye is carried upward to the high vaulting and its beauty.
At the top of the arch of masonry in the large window, note the motif of the Budded Cross. On either side of the Budded Cross are two crosses which resemble the Cross Patonce, with arms curving gradually out to the petals. There is the Latin Cross directly over the front doors to the sanctuary, with the IHS letters. On either side are bunches of grapes, recalling the shed blood of Christ and of Christ the True Vine.
A bit below the Latin cross are two shields. On the shield on the left are the Greek letters A and O, meaning alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. A tree is also on this shield representing immortality and wisdom. On the shield on the right is the Chi Rho symbol, an ancient monogram of Christ, which has been in use for over 1600 years. The symbol, which consists of a P within an X, is dervied from the two letters of the Greek word, Christos.
It is unusual for a Baptist church to be housed in an English Gothic structure. The original building was a small white frame church that was very similar to the New England churches of the 1800’s.
Founded on this site in 1870 by Eliza Anscomb, Joseph Donaldson, Joshua and Polly Fay, Esther and Samuel Holman, Benjamin Leach, Joseph Phillips, Albert Putnam and E. A. Valentine, the first church structure was a reflection of their New England roots.
The founders came from Massachusetts and New York and all were in their sixties and seventies when the church began. In 1928 Birmingham was changing and the church was outgrowing its building. The new structure that would rise on the same site would send a message to all who were moving to the area that this was a permanent place of worship. The last service in the white frame church was held on March 4, 1928.
On March 17, 1929 the first service was held in the new building. The church is constructed of Indiana limestone. Over the front entrance to the church are large tracery windows and ecclesiastical symbols.
The two gargoyles, unusual for a Baptist church in that they are symbols that are used to ward off evil spirits, overlook the Bates Street entrance and the edge of downtown Birmingham. The huge doors welcome all those who enter. Inside, five great wooden beams support the high vaulted roof.
The beams are made of Douglas fir trees that were brought from the Pacific coast. They weigh four tons each.
Hand carved oak with intricate designs outline the front of the chancel and the Baptistry. Leaded glass windows are prevalent through out the building and are a reminder of the vision that the members of the earlier church had. As the new church grew in membership, it became apparent that additional space was needed. In the 1950’s it was deemed necessary to add a wing to the church. In 1959, with funds in place, nethe new Educational wing was added. Currently housing the nursery, preschool and children and youth classrooms, along with the library and music rooms this new wing allows the congregation to spread its reach further into the community. The Youth Lounge is the gateway to classrooms, the music room and the courtyard. This space serves as an operation center for South Oakland Shelter (SOS) when the congregation hosts the homeless in the building. It is a secondary entrance into a building that has many uses and is often an area of activity and excitement.
The beautiful stained glass windows in the sanctuary were installed in the 1970’s. The chancel window at the front of the sanctuary was dedicated October 25,1970 and invites one into this place of worship. The narthex window at the rear of the sanctuary was dedicated December 26, 1976 and inspires one to go out into the world to serve. The front of the sanctuary has been remodeled and the first row of pews removed in order to provide better access for those in wheelchairs. The Baptistry is an integral part of American Baptist beliefs. At the front of the sanctuary behind the chancel area is a stairway with a pool of water at the bottom. A new Christian will descend on one side and experiencing total immersion, the person will ascend the stairway on the other side of the pool, symbolizing a new beginning and a new life with Christ. The state of the art sound system has added sound quality to the B’Jazz Vespers, Critchfield Concert, First Night Concerts and other music outreach
The Church Parlor is a warm and inviting room and has hosted many receptions over the years. The leaded glass windows allow for sunshine to stream in on many days. The fireplace, gas powered, lends a sense of warmth to the room. The Birmingham Historical Society uses the room for monthly meetings as well. Bible studies have been held in the Parlor on many occasions. Our Prayer Shawl and Quilters Ministry groups meet here once a month. The baby grand piano provides a focal point during the “Old Fashioned Hymn Sings” held throughout the year. These events were begun by a beloved church member, Margaret Boss Smith, and continue to this day in her honor. Talented members, both young and old, offer their gifts of music at these well-loved events.
THE FELLOWSHIP HALL
The Fellowship Hall is used by community groups as well as the church for special functions. Many Several 12- step recovery groups use this space for weekly meetings…Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. The Michigan Orchid Society meets here monthly. The Birmingham Community House has used the space in the past for various programs and events. The Global Gifts and Crafts Shop housed next to the Fellowship Hall is a non-profit enterprise run by the church since 1995. This shop sells a wide variety of goods from across the world supporting programs and small businesses that help women and children at risk, some in third world countries. It is open during the Fall and Winter seasons and for special requests.
THE HANSON CHILDREN’S CENTER
Renovations of this room were made with a memorial gift from the family of a long time member. Polly Hanson was instrumental in offering a solid religious and educational foundation to many young people in the church. The stage area is used for performance art and the space is easily converted for children's worship.
THE BRAMBLETT ROOM
This classroom is dedicated to the memory of Earl Bramblett, a long time adult Sunday school leader. The Christian Forum Class meets in this room weekly. Here current topics are discussed from a biblical standpoint using American Baptist curriculum. In the past, these members have supported and befriended children in overseas orphanages, raised money for the parlor furniture and provided much support to the members of this congregation.
The Library houses a collection of over 3000 books. The original Library shelves were built by Harry Teague, a skilled carpenter and a long time member of the church. and did much to enhance the workings of the church. After his death, a monetary gift given in his memory was used to build the second wall of shelves and a unit for children’s books. The library provides a welcoming space for adults and children to browse the shelves, to sit and read, or to engage in Bible study.
The gym is used by many groups in the church and community. Art of Leadership, a small nonprofit agency meets here monthly and uses the space. The gym is also used by community groups for rehearsals, Vacation Bible School, and basketball activities.
First Baptist Church
of Birmingham, Michigan